Saturday, August 24, 2013

BUDDHACARITA 7.3: Ashram-Dwellers (1) - Wheel-Bearers of Indeterminate Status

¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−¦¦−−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−   Upajāti (Haṁsī)
sthitā hi hasta-stha-yugās-tathaiva kautūhalāc-cakra-dharāḥ sa-dārāḥ |
tam-indra-kalpaṁ dadśur-na jagmur-dhuryā ivārdhāvanataiḥ śirobhiḥ || 7.3

For standing in precisely that manner,
rooted in their curiosity, with yoke in hand,

Were the wheel-bearers, with wives in tow;

They beheld him the equal of Indra, and did not move,

Like beasts of burden with their heads half bowed.

Dogen said that lay people receiving and retaining a kaṣāya was a secret of the great vehicle. Now I could be totally wrong about this, but reading behind the lines of today's verse, my guess is that this secret of the great vehicle might have been news to Aśvaghoṣa.

Aśvaghoṣa stands for nothing if not for the individual as the fundamental unit of practice. This, I have repeatedly argued, is why he eschews the word saṅgha, except in contexts like deva-saṅgāḥ, “divine congretations” (BC6.58) or kirāta-saṅgāḥ, “communities of mountain-men” (SN10.12). At the same time, I think that the status of an individual follower of the Buddha's teaching, as exemplified by Nanda, was for Aśvaghoṣa relatively cut and dried: so Nanda left his wife, had his head shaved, wore the ochre robe, and thus attained the status of a beggar. After that, with much effort, he made the Buddha's teaching his own and thus attained the status of one who deserves to be served, an arhat.

Yesterday on Woman's Hour on BBC Radio 4, which I was listening to most happily while taking some cuttings from roses chosen for their fragrance, there was a feature on skin whitening in India, an industry said to be worth £500 million a year. I listened with interest to the eloquent arguments of 'dusky actress' Nandita Das.What she said seemed to relate with the discussion of vi-varṇa in BC6.66, which is to say that Indians from ancient times have tended to be much concerned with status as reflected in how light or dark a person's skin is, and which rung he or she stands upon according to the caste system. But the Buddha dismissed all that – dismissing it (visṛjya) not only as an action of letting go but also possibly with a certain contempt – in favour of a system which was much simpler.

The situation in the ashram in the ascetic woods, I think Aśvaghoṣa is suggesting, would not have been so simple. Thus, five verses starting from today's verse each have different subjects, expanding on the sarvāśramiṇām (all the ashram-dwellers) in BC7.2. And the subject of today's verse is cakra-dharāḥ sa-dārāḥ, “wheel bearers with wives in tow.” 

The point of the simile seems to be to compare (a) these wheel bearers yoked to their wives who have become rooted to the spot in curiosity to (b) yoked oxen which have stopped pulling, or not yet started pulling, a heavy load. On the face of it a wheel-bearer suggests somebody of relatively high status, like a cakra-vartin, a wheel-rolling king. But it is not clear exactly what the status was, in the ashram pecking order, of a cakra-dhara yoked to his wife. And just that lack of clariy, I think, might be Aśvaghoṣa's point.

EHJ wrote a long footnote which, in its failure to reach a definite conclusion, despite EHJ's evident extensive knowledge of relevant sources, perhaps serves to support my thesis that veiled criticism of indeterminacy of status might have been Aśvaghoṣa's point.

For reference, then, here is the gist of EHJ's note:
For the following description see Eggers Das Dharmasūtra der Vaikhānasas, but it is difficult to determine the class referred to in this verse, as they cannot be definitely identified with any of the various kind of ascetics who are accompanied by their wives. It is natural to take cakradhara as meaning those who are branded with the discus of Viṣṇu and to understand yuga as 'a carrying pole', which wandering ascetics carried (Dīgha, I, 101, and Eggers op. cit.) and which explains the comparison to oxen with heads bowed down under the yoke ; the practice of branding is called cakradhāraṇa at Sarvadarśanasaṁgraha, 53. The word cakradhara occurs for a kind of ascetic at M Bh, xiv. 429, and Utpala on Bṛhajjātaka xv.1 gives it as a synonym of caraka. So cakradhara may be the same as cakracara mentioned in M Bh xiii. 6493-6497, and perhaps also the same as cākrika of ib. xii. 2646...... As I am not certain of the sense, I leave the translation ambiguous.
For the wheel-bearers, accompanied by their wives and standing with their yoke-poles in their hands, gazed, just as they were, in their excitement on him who was like Indra, and did not stir, like beasts of burden with half-bowed heads. (EHJ)

sthitāḥ (nom. pl. m.): mfn. standing , staying , situated , resting or abiding or remaining
hi: for
hasta-stha-yugāḥ (nom. pl. m.): mfn. holding a yoke in the hand Bcar.
hasta-stha: mfn. being in or held with the hand
yuga: n. a yoke , team ; pair, couple
tathā: ind. in like manner
tatra: ind. there and then
eva (emphatic)

kautūhalāt (abl. sg.): out of curiosity
cakra-dharāḥ (nom. pl.): m. a wheel-bearer ; m. a sovereign , emperor; m. a snake
dhṛ: to hold , bear (also bring forth) , carry , maintain , preserve , keep , possess , have , use , employ , practise , undergo
sa-dārāḥ (nom. pl. m.): mfn. accompanied by a wife
dāra: m. pl. a wife (wives)

tam (acc. sg. m.): him
indra-kalpam (acc. sg. m.): Indra's equal
dadṛśur = 3rd pers. pl. perf. dṛś: to see, behold
na: not
jagmur = 3rd pers. pl. perf. gam: to go, move, go away

dhuryāḥ (nom. pl.): m. beast of burden ; horse, bullock ; mfn. fit to be harnessed , able to draw or bear
iva: like
ardha: n. half
ava- √ nam: to bow, make a bow ; bow down
śirobhiḥ (inst. pl.): n. the head

男女隨執事 即視不改儀
如天觀帝釋 瞪視目不瞬
諸仙不移足 瞪視亦復然 

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